Betrum had no back door. Or rather, he did, but it was even narrower and somewhat messy and there were nails sticking out because he was “doing renovations,” or at least that’s what he claimed. In Root’s opinion, this translated to “I don’t want to show you where it is now get out of my house that’s not really my house but rather the dirty hole underneath someone else’s house.” As if that wasn’t her goal in the first place.

“Why not just take our money and use it to go buy the potion himself?” asked Vit once they were back out in the street and around the corner.

“Maybe he and this other spirit don’t see eye to eye,” said Root. “Old rivalry. Bad breakup or something. You never know.”

“It’s a business move,” said Azriah. “Overcharge us. Increase his profit. He wants to put a huge price tag on this info that Syrus wants, but he’s worried the figure he had in mind might’ve made us balk, maybe even walk out. Instead of lowballing and losing out, he found a loophole. We don’t know how much this potion is supposed to cost—at least I don’t, do any of you?” They shook their heads. “Right. So instead he’s opted for a trade of something valuable, something that costs the same—or more—than what he wanted to charge. Best case for him, we’ve walked all the way out of the village so we bite even if it’s more than we expected. Worst case we go back and tell him it was too expensive, but then he knows where to start negotiations.”

“And you let him pull that shit?”

“It’s not our money.”

“What if it’s more than Syrus gave us as a down payment and he doesn’t show when we get back to pay the difference?” asked Vit.

“Unlikely. It would mean he paid us a lot already for nothing. But even if he does vanish on us, it sounds like someone out there has a vested interest in keeping this info hidden away. If they paid Betrum to keep it quiet, it’s likely we could cash in on the same tab.”

Vit shrugged. “All right. I think we’re just skeptical after the whole Ophylla thing.”

“No, it’s good to stay alert. But the way I see it, this doesn’t make any real difference; we use the money from Syrus to buy the potion, get reimbursed for anything extra, and everyone’s tabs are settled. It’s just a bit more… roundabout.”

“But my feet are tired,” said Beel.

“All of our feet are tired,” said Root.

“Yes but I have twice as many feet. So I’m twice as tired.”

Vit’s eyes flashed green and then they were in spider form. A moment passed, and then they sprang back up.

“That wasn’t funny,” said Beel before they could speak.

“It’s just one extra stop,” said Root. “It’s not going to take long.”

It’s not quite truthful to say that the spirit Pag lived under a hill. Or rather, it’s not truthful at all. There was no hill, not in the way that hills normally are (that is, a big, rounded mass that was there before anyone took an interest in it), but somehow it still seemed that it was under a hill. Asked later, any visitors would certainly say there had been a hill there. Which is not not true… sort of.

What was there was a house, or a hut, or a sort of bungalow, and it was under the ground, at least in part and somewhat depending on how you’d like to define the lines of ground. (Most people choose that line horizontally, but even barring the usual odd example of some bizarre Atnaterran landscape, what does that make a mountain? Anyway…) The ground around the squat little home pinched in at the front to make way for one dusty little window, a brick wall that looked to have skimped on mortar in favor of moss, and a wooden door more square than rectangle. Atop the roof was more moss. So much moss, in fact, that the whole thing started to look sort of tall and rounded…

(Really, that doesn’t make it a hill though. A hill would have dirt beneath the moss. This moss just had moss beneath the moss, and roof, and home, and oftentimes Pag, and somewhere in between all of that also another creature that really shouldn’t be listed by name or else it will seem narratively important and possibly incriminating despite, in all fairness and some public opinion, being neither.)

So not a hill so much as something “slumbering” under a heavy blanket of moss, as it may (or may not) be. You follow?

Vit knocked on the door of the squashed little home. Already Root rubbed her neck at the dimensions of the front door.

A moment passed, and then the door swung inward with a dusty creak. A spirit with much the same look as the house stared up at Vit.

“Whad you want?”

Pag was small and goopy, an undercooked old woman with big eyes on a face like a clay doll that had been dropped on the floor before it had fully dried. Her face was a nauseous shade of green cracked by thick grey ridges, like her veins had swollen up and bound her. From the chest down she was as formless as a slug, and yet she moved with a toddling waddle. Proud atop her head was a wide-brimmed black hat, rumpled and silky and pointed. It nearly doubled her height.

“We’re customers. Are you Pag?”

“Hm. Customers. Come in.” She turned from the door and slunk deeper into the home, not so much leading them in as leaving the door open and then ignoring them as they did what they wished.

The inside was warm and dry and tinted orange by an ambush of candles. An open hearth sizzled in the middle of the floor over which hung an enormous black cauldron thick with bubbling goo. Pots and pans and herbs and other things hung from exposed beams, turning the already low ceiling into a minefield that had soon left its mark on Root’s temple.

“Ooh— ah. Sorry,” she muttered, rubbing her skull with one hand and steadying the pan with the other as it rattled against its neighbors.

“Watch your head! I don’t want your human hair all over my crockery.”

Well good thing for your crockery and my skeletal integrity that it’s just cast iron, then, she thought.

“What do you want?” Pag asked again once they were all inside and Azriah had closed the door behind them. The question included no more patience than the first time she’d asked it, with the exception of the time taken to form the one additional word.

“We heard you brew the best potions in the village,” said Vit.

“No one else in the village brews potions.”

“Well, easy competition, then. We are looking for a quostress potion.”


Vit paused. They looked at Root. “So, you have one?”


“… But you could make one?”

“Yes I can make one. What do I look like?”

Somewhere in the region of her mouth Root caught the word “slug” and put it promptly under arrest.

“Great. Uh, how much?”

Pag hefted a bowl-sized ladle into one short arm and gave the cauldron a slow stir. She stopped, sniffed, and then stirred again in the other direction. Then she turned and waddled up to a cupboard and started rifling through the contents.

“How much would it cost for the quostress—” Vit started again.

“I heard you the first time. I’m not deaf.”

“Of course.”

Pag found what she was looking for—a vial of small black stones, or seeds perhaps—and uncorked it. She sprinkled them into the cauldron. There was a dramatic puff of magenta smoke that made every candle flare in tandem. With a wave of her hand to clear the air, Pag returned to the cupboard.

Vit watched her with exceptional patience. Root cast a look in Azriah’s direction. He heaved a silent sigh and shrugged.

“A big ask,” said Pag.

“For the potion?” asked Vit.

Pag grunted.

“How mm…?” Vit stopped and sucked their lips in over their teeth.

“Eight mantles.”

Eight?” said Azriah. His eyes were almost as wide as Pag’s.

“Eight,” snapped Pag. “I don’t make the weak stuff.”

Vit turned to Azriah. “How much is in the…? From…?”

“Five and some change.”

They shrugged. “He said he’ll pay us back. It’s not that crazy.”

“No, I know. Just more than I expected.”

Pag hmphed.

“We will take one,” said Azriah. “How soon can you have it ready?”

“Well that’s just not up to me, now is it?”

“One of those ‘phase of the moon’ type situations?” asked Root. “Shouldn’t be long. Those scenarios always conveniently align so that the moon is just right the same night that you learn about the necessity.”

“Where do you think we are, girl?”

“Oh. Right. No moon. Uh, does Enyn have… phases?”

“What timeline are we looking at?” asked Azriah.

“However long it takes you.”


“Get the ingredients.”

There was a heavy moment filled by the sound of four minds working their way to a new understanding.

“What are the ingredients?” asked Root, which was all she could think to say in the moment.

Pag raised her arms. The candles seemed to dim; the cauldron roiled just a bit more forcefully. “Bring to me ingredients four. First: a sprig of salacious sage. Second: dallywill-shembulgart cream. Third: toe of trout. Fourth: the smock as damp as tears.” The light returned to normal and the cauldron slowed its bubbling.

Root, sure she had misheard, asked, “Dallywill-shembulgart cream?”

“Very potent!”

“A toe from a trout?” asked Beel. “That’s a fish.”

“What is this stuff?” asked Vit.

“Excuse me, Pag…” Azriah took a few steps closer to the cauldron, weaving between a hanging saucepan and bushel of turnips. “Is there… that is, what would be the extra cost for you to purchase—or, or find—these ingredients yourself?”

“Oh, no, I don’t do those sorts of things anymore. Not for ingredients like these. No, I’m too old.”

“But you’re a spirit,” said Vit.

“Precisely!” snapped Pag with a scowl.

Root cleared her throat. “This is a really lovely—and impressive—business you’re running here. Um, but is it possible… er, I mean, are there others in the same line of work, maybe, who—”

“You’d try to find someone willing to undercut me?”

Vit jumped in. “No, not undercut per se—”

“Just someone—less old, maybe—who gets the ingredients themself?” finished Root. And charges less, she added to herself.

Pag struck her ladle against the side of the cauldron with a hearty thlung! She leveled it at Root, which made her flinch.

“Preposterous! Callous! Unspirited!”

“Well I don’t know what being a human has to do with it…”

“You wouldn’t find a better deal if you tried. I’m with the union, and we have policies, you know. Set prices for potions and such, and rules about the proper way to conduct these sorts of things.”

Azriah perked up. “You’re unionized?”

Pag crossed her stubby arms and lifted her chin. “That’s right.”

“Rules such as…?” asked Vit.

“Such as the customer fetches the ingredients! It’s just the way things like this ought to be done!”


“Vit.” Azriah put out a hand and gestured for them to hold their words. He sighed and scratched his chin. “I hope we haven’t offended you, Pag. We’ll get the ingredients. I suppose.”


“Where can they be found?”

Thlung! Pag’s ladle thlunged with boiled temper and cauldron goo.

“Can you—?”




Azriah put up his hands. “All right. Come on guys.”

Root stared at Azriah and then gestured incredulously back towards Pag. “But we don’t even know—!”

Thlung thlung thlung thlung thlung thlung!

The only reprieve was found back out in the woods. Root looked back at the candlelight leaking out from behind the windowpane frosted with dust and spiderwebs as the four of them took the path back towards Lallslatt.

“What the hell was that about?”

Azriah made a vague gesture. “You did try to ask if she had competitors who would give us a better deal.”

“Yeah, because her deal sucks!”

“I have to admit, I might’ve been wrong about Betrum. I guess it’s possible there was another motive for sending us to get the potion.”

“So what now? We go back to him and give him the money instead?”

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t know what his angle is now. It might be the potion or no deal. It’s probably easier to just get these ingredients and go back to Pag.”

“You think?”

Azriah shrugged. “I hope so.”

Yurol rifled through a stack of papers—two dozen orders to fill, and more coming in every day. Business was good, but so were breaks. Long breaks, and not the sort spent scrubbing the floor.

He picked up the form at the top of the stack and read.

“Another order from Pag, boss,” he called into the next room.

“How many this time?”

“Another four ladles she’s askin’ for.”

There was a heavy sigh, as if from two mouths, and then the sound of tools being picked back up.